Boomers, X-ers, Z-ers, Millennials, Traditionalists – Today’s workforce spans five generations, all with different experiences, upbringings, and communication styles. At best generational gaps among colleagues offer learning opportunities and different perspectives, at worst they create tension and frustration. Allowing yourself to fall victim to the latter is a mistake. Regardless of the generation to which you belong, it is good for your career, happiness, engagement, and work product to collaborate and build relationships with people from other generations. While connecting with professionals outside of your own generation may not come as naturally as it does with your peers, it can done and should be a priority. Below are a few tips for building lasting professional relationships across generations:
- Focus on your Similarities. While your life experiences are different, you may share common interests, hobbies, or values. Focus on your similarities and forget about your age gap. You’ve heard the quote “The more things change, the more they remain the same”? You might be surprised by how similar your likes and interests are to someone 30 years your junior or senior. Similarities provide a strong base for new relationships, and it’s a good place to start when connecting across generations.
- Ask for Advice. Show respect for your older or younger colleagues by seeking advice or asking for their help in solving a problem. You want the perspectives of those in older and younger generations as it offers a diversified approach to problem-solving, career development, customer experience, and leadership. Creating a multi-generational workforce and network is a competitive advantage for companies and professionals, but only if you actively seek input from professionals across generations.
- Get to Know the Person. Avoid thinking of colleagues in terms of their age, position, and experience level. While you certainly want to build relationships with professionals in other age brackets, get to know the person, not the experience level or generation. When you put those labels out of your mind, it’s easier to build genuine relationships that will benefit both parties long-term. Learning what makes a person who they are and how they got to where they are today allows you to get to know them on a deeper level, enabling you to push past being acquaintances to respected business colleagues or friends.
- Don’t Make Assumptions. Refrain from pre-judging someone based on stereotypes associated with their generation. Don’t assume Millennials are entitled or that Boomers are set in their ways. Letting stereotypes and assumptions color your interactions with those from other generations can sabotage your attempts to build relationships and collaborate on projects. Generational stereotypes have no merit and no place in your network, company, or relationships.
- Redefine Mentoring. Instead of defining a mentor as a person who has more experience than the other person, define it as someone with different experiences that you would like to learn from. While a mentor can be an older, more experienced professional, it could also be someone younger or someone of a different race or gender. Seek out relationships, in which you can mentor each other. From purchasing behavior to problem-solving, you can take learning to a new level in non-traditional mentoring relationships.
- Be Understanding and Flexible. Different generations have different styles of communicating and working. Don’t mistake informality for a lack of respect or formality for aloofness. Be flexible enough to change your communication style and understanding when miscommunications happen. Treating people from different generations with respect and dignity should be a given, but unfortunately, stereotypes and a lack of flexibility can sometimes prevent collaboration and positive relationships.
An open network — a network of contacts rich in diversity that crosses racial, cultural, geographic, and generational divides – is the number one predictor of career success. Building relationships across generations serves to open your network, providing career and success opportunities that a closed network can’t. Relationships are the key to unlocking your potential, and when you build them across generations, you’re building bridges to more opportunities and greater success.